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Internet coming into its own as tool for global education

Arman Danesh

IT began as a tool to connect the academic world and the defence community using the emerging computer technologies that were becoming popular several decades ago.

Now, as it moves toward being every person's means of communicating with everyone else, it is also emerging as a highly creative medium. And the Internet is coming into its own as an independent forum for education itself.

Earlier this year, the Usenet University-Global Network Academy (UU-GNA) won several awards on the World Wide Web (WWW), firmly establishing it as one of the most creative endeavours on the Internet. Among its numerous prizes were the winner of the 'Best of the WWW' competition and 'Best Educational Service'.

UU-GNA represents a free-form coming together of people and resources all over the Internet to form a loosely-knit consortium of numerous semi-autonomous and several autonomous affiliates with the academy acting as an 'umbrella', essentially bundling educational initiatives on the Internet.

The history of the UU-GNA extends back more than two years when it established a long-term goal to develop a fully-accredited university operating entirely on the Net.

This has come to be broken down into several components, some of which exist and others which are still being developed.

The UU-GNA Meta-Library represents a launching point to numerous meta-resources (on-line documents) which have been registered with the library. Through this forum, lecture notes, terms papers and other educational materials are made available to the Internet to be used as education resources.

The Network Academy is also creating a MOO-based virtual campus which is a place on the Internet where people can meet and interact in real-time in multi-person chat sessions.

These virtual meeting places already exist and are being used, among other things, to discuss UU-GNA-related issues.

A text project is also being developed to bring together information to create freely-distributable text books for use in future on-line classes.

But, along with the Meta-Library, a proposed Question Bank promises to help pave the way for many of the future courses which UU-GNA will offer.

The Question Bank will be a collection of multiple choice questions, organised by topic. By choosing a topic, a person will be presented with a question. A wrong answer will automatically point the student toward materials that explain the question and present the correct answer.

The UU-GNA expects that by autumn of next year these two projects will be used to enable the creation of a course.

The real long-term goal, though, is that by autumn of 2005, just 11 years from now, the UU-GNA will be able to create a degree programme, seek accreditation, and ultimately issue diplomas.

If this goal becomes reality then some of the promise of the Information Superhighway will have been realised, as people bring the world of learning into their homes rather than having to go out and struggle to find it.

In the meantime, the academy continues to develop its administration, infrastructure and resource base, as well as conduct experimental on-line courses such as a recent course in Object-Oriented Programming which won 'Best Educational Service' on the WWW this year.

Also, according to the academy's home page, the UU-GNA operates a personnel database where Net users can register so that the academy knows who they are and where they are, should they be interested in helping future developments. The Network Academy also continues to call on people to develop and offer courses through the UU-GNA.